The Art of Renewing and Rebuilding
Whether in Arizona, Puerto Rico, or right here in the Bay Area, we seek to promote transformative social change that will benefit local communities. Alternative Breaks inspires UC Berkeley students and their community partners to become the committed civic leaders our world needs.
As part of the Public Service Center (PSC), student-led Alternative Breaks programs offer students the chance to learn from communities while serving them in meaningful ways. Following a student-taught DeCal class focused on one social issue, over 60 Berkeley students traveled near and far to spend their spring break on service-learning trips. Whether teaming up with Aliento, an immigration activist group in Arizona, or the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, our students renewed their commitment to serving their community partners.
The program’s newest service-learning trip supports areas of Puerto Rico still suffering after the devastating Hurricane Maria in 2017. Partnerships aim to include students in locals’ efforts to rebuild Puerto Rico. To increase the sustainability of Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure, Alt Breaks students partnered with Casa Pueblo, an organization fighting for 100% renewable energy in Puerto Rico by 2050. It took eleven months for electricity to be restored across the whole island, making sustainable energy solutions a top priority.
Though one week isn’t enough to tackle such structural issues, serving communities and forming friendships was itself a source of strength and hope. While the group was painting a mural, a Puerto Rican painter stopped by and inquired about their work. Depressed and discouraged in the wake of the storm, he had, as he put it, “lost his muse” and stopped painting. The compassion and commitment shown by Alt Breaks’ Berkeley students inspired him to “find his muse” and start painting again.
Through collaborative and experiential practices, Berkeley students exchanged ideas with community leaders and also learned about Puerto Rican traditions (like the Bomba dance). Local partners such as Camp Tabonuco and Casa Pueblo shared their knowledge of sustainable ecology.. Upon returning home, Break Leader Rosa Enriquez said, “the entire experience solidified my commitment to social justice and community wellness.”
Yet there remains much to be done. “It’s important that we continue to shed light on the institutional barriers and the resiliency we found within the communities we worked with,” said Claudia Diaz. At Berkeley, we learn about the injustices around us, but too often these lessons are purely academic. “Not at Alt Breaks,” said Break Leader Pablo Paredes. “[Our programs provide] the opportunity to move from theory to practice. To move from classroom to real world. The opportunity to deal with people rather than statistics, with the earth and the elements rather than rhetoric and analysis.”
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Declan Kuta, UC Berkeley Class of 2020, majors in geography.